Major George Armistead: The Guardian of the Star-Spangled Banner

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O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Francis Scott Key, The Star-Spangled Banner

As we approach the 200th anniversary of The Star-Spangled Banner, it seems appropriate to recall the commander of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore on September 12-14, 1814.  Major George Armistead was one of five brothers who fought in the War of 1812.  He distinguished himself at the capture of Fort George from the British.

Placed in command of Fort McHenry he ordered an American flag made that would be large enough to be seen by the British at a distance if they should attack.  The 42 feet by 30 feet flag was sewn by Baltimore resident Mary Pickersgill, her daughter and seven seamstresses.  It was that flag, during the unsuccessful bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British, that inspired Francis Scott Key.  Being unable to cause the fort to surrender in spite of 2000 shells flung at it, the British were unable to sail into Baltimore Habor, and they withdrew.  The Star-Spangled Banner had triumphed.

Armistead was promoted to Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel for his gallant leadership.  He died three years after the War at age 38, his health having been shattered by his exertions in defense of his country.

George Armistead

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